Books for Kids · Reading

“Greenglass House” Review

“There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.”

So begins Greenglass House by Kate Milford. A student graciously gave me a Barnes and Noble gift card at the end of last year and I was perusing the shelves looking for a good book for the kids. There are a lot of books! So I asked one of the employees and he gave me a couple suggestions. Greenglass House won the day.

I have to say, the book’s cover beckons me (I guess I really like green, snowy woods).

But you can’t always judge…well, you know.

In brief, this is the story of Milo, who lives at Greenglass House, and his adventurous Christmas vacation. Christmas is usually a slow time at the inn, but this year a whole troupe of unusual characters shows up unexpectedly. Milo teams up with the cook’s daughter, Meddy, to act out a real-life role-playing game as they assume interesting identities and work to uncover the visitors’ secrets. Secrets indeed! As each individuals’ tale unfolds, it seems that all of them have a strange connection to the House itself, especially to its history and its one-time owner, the famed smuggler Doc Holistone. When stories of theft turn into the real thing, Milo and Meddy have more secrets to discover than they ever expected!

Greenglass House started out promisingly and then, after a long read, ended with a whimper. The problems here were two-fold. First, the story itself failed to deliver. There were significant parts that seemed either unnecessary, uninteresting, or that weren’t in the end clearly tied together with the mystery’s solution. To make matters worse, I kept feeling like I wasn’t even sure what mystery Milo and Meddy were trying to solve. Combine this with an out-of-the-blue genre change at the end (spoiler alert in the content notes below) and we were all very glad to finish the final page.

That’s never a good sign.

The second problem is more philosophical in nature. Here we are presented with a great family: Milo’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Pine, are loving, caring, and responsible; they show great concern for their guests and seem to be generally really nice people. All the while, however, we are told that they knowingly house and help a regular flow of criminals (smugglers to be exact) who frequent their non-specific coastal town. In fact, over and over throughout the story, thieves and smugglers are the good guys and the authorities trying to stop them the villains. These thieves, however, are all nice people and the point is clearly made that even the infamous Doc Holistone wasn’t a bad guy. He was a loving father who of course never smuggled anything “evil” like weapons, but only things that helped the citizens against the wicked corporation that had a monopoly on so many goods.

Aside from turning good and evil on their heads, this presents a deceptive and, I think, subversive picture. Thieves and criminals are not “good” people. One doesn’t lie, deceive, and steal from others in one corner of their lives (in this case, a significant corner that largely encompasses their identity) and then live the rest of their life as an honest, caring citizen. Selfishness and deception in one area bleeds into all the others and this novel leaves the reader with the mistaken feeling that criminality is not only justified, but undertaken by honorable people who are “just like everyone else.” Better even.

I’m not advocating by any means that books should only contain pure black hats and pure white hats. There is nuance to a person’s character and we are all corrupt to a certain extent. However, that fact of reality is different from the feeling that one gets – if not the direct message – from Greenglass House; a message that blurs the lines to “upside-downness” and unrealistically separates what we do from who we are.

Content Notes

Profanity1 A few words sprinkled throughout.
Sex/Romantic Themes1 Two of the visitors are in competition for the love of one man and, thought it is obviously romantic in nature, there is not even a kiss shared.
Miscellaneous Spoiler alert: There is a surprise supernatural twist in that Meddy turns out to be a ghost.

For a full explanation of my Content Notes and the scale, click here.

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